ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2019-01-03 06:43 pm

Second working day of 2019

What a difference from yesterday! I got so much done, and I can actually see more than half of my desk. Which I haven't done since I don't know when.

A bit more tidying up to do, articles to photocopy, books to return, and then I'm ready for spring term 2019.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2019-01-02 08:55 pm

First working day of 2019

Started with insomnia until 3am or so. So I turned off my alarm, figuring that a few extra hours would be more than worth it. I got up at a reasonable hour, but decided to do the food shopping straight away and not wrestle with the evening crowds. Probably a smart move. Got home, had lunch, decided I could do with a hour or so in bed rather than going into work and starting to flag after two hours. Then decided that I might just as well take today as holiday and say sod it all.

So, in conclusion, I'm very glad that I don't believe in what you do on the first day will mirror the rest of the year.

I hope tomorrow will be better.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2018-09-21 09:36 pm
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Back in the field!

One week of this term’s student excavation at Uppåkra has finished – one more to go – and I could easily fall asleep at 8pm. Possibly a combination of a full week of continuous outdoor work and being on a very windy site (with continuous noise from the motorway as a bonus). Extermely windy today, as a storm was moving in. Luckily we had time to cover the trench for the weekend before the downpour hit.

Uppåkra is a very interesting place: inhabited from the Roman Iron Age to the end of the Viking Age, with its heyday as a high-status site in the Migration and Vendel periods. Unfortunately, we’re not digging at the centre of the site, where you would regularly find nice artefacts (even gold!), but at a craft/production area in the periphery. This trench has been excavated for several terms, but now we’re almost at the very bottom, and it will most likely be finished by next term’s students. The finds are less exciting: postholes, two hearths, some animal bone, some flint flakes from the Stone Age, the odd sherd of pottery. On the plus side, this means that the report will be easy to write, and there is almost no extra cost for conservation of metal objects. The students seem to be happy with the excavation, although of course it’s always more fun when you keep finding things…

If you want to know more about Uppåkra, all the articles about the site have been digitised at the department website: http://www.uppakra.lu.se/uppakrastudier/
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2018-08-28 06:04 pm

Blast from the past: the 2nd Nordic ZooArch meeting

The weather has turned, and I can breathe again. I'm not happy in hot weather (for hot, read over 26°C) and this summer has for basically all of July and half of August been around 28-30°C. All my plans for summer were scrapped, as there was only enough functioning brain to re-read simple books and even then only for short moments each day.

The good news is that I did so much in late spring/early summer that there will undoubtedly be material for several posts. (the bad news is that autumn will be very busy and my supervisor insists that I must write on my actual thesis.)

As always, click on the images to see them in proper size.

In the end of April I went to Stockholm for the second Nordic ZooArch meeting, held at the Archaeology department of the university. I took the night train, thereby being able to go to the research seminar that my department had that afternoon, and I saved a bit of money on hotel rooms, which is always a bonus. The drawback is that you arrive in Stockholm at 6am, and I’m not a morning person. But with a meeting start at 10am, there was plenty of time for a slow wake-up (you have until 7am to leave the train), leisurely breakfast and sorting out a travel card for the metro/buses.

The archaeology department is set a bit apart from the main campus. The drawback is that it’s further to walk if you want to buy lunch, but on the other hand they have a great view over a small lake and much more nature (including roe deer in the woods) than the rest of the campus.

Wooded area, overlooking a lake, with tables and benches
Not a bad place for your lunch or afternoon fika...

Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mainly mutually intelliglible (barring strong regional accents) and on the previous meeting everyone spoke their own language. The official languages on this meeting included English, since now we had a few Finnish participants. In Finland you have to learn Swedish in school, since it’s officially a bilingual country, but as with such things, if you are forced to do something and have no incentive to learn and to keep it up (say, if you don’t live in a Swedish speaking area), you tend to forget most of it. So one can’t assume that Finns will be able to follow an academic talk in Swedish (or for that matter, Danish).

The talks were very diverse, ranging from Mesolithic fur animals to Medieval waste management; from 19th century fish oil production to the historical/cultural history of goats in Finland; from animal keeping on early Medieval central places to fish fermenting in the Mesolithic. We also discussed how to manage collections and decided that we wanted to make a reference collection database, so we can find out where a specific species can be found in case we need to use it for comparison. A similar database has just been launched in the UK: The National Zooarchaeological Reference Resource, and I’ve had much use of it already, trying to find calf mandibles (but that’s another story for another day).

After the two-day conference I had a Sunday off, and decided to be a tourist and see the Vasa. It’s a fantastic ship, but unfortunately you only see it from the outside – not even a model to show what the interior looks like. And since she sank on the maiden voyage (1628), there were relatively few items on board. Contrast this to the Mary Rose (1545), where we have so many finds, but only half the ship. I also went to the open-air museum/Nordic zoo Skansen for the first time. It was very early in the season, so few houses were open to the public. But still, a nice day out.

16th century tall ship seen from below.
The Vasa from below

16th century tall ship seen from above/the side.
The Vasa from above

Monday was back to PhD-ing, but this time in Stockholm. I met up with the people at the National Archive who has helped me with sampling of the parchment charters and went to the Royal Library to have a look at some books and articles. Tuesday I took the train to Uppsala to meet with a conservator at the University Library trying to convince them to do some sampling for me (spoiler: I succeeded!). Since it was my first time in Uppsala I also did some touristing of the Gustavianum museum and the Cathedral. Not my favourite cathedral, but it has the 16th century Sture garments! No photos of those, since there are lots on the internet and besides, the interesting bit is the construction and I can get that from books. Wednesday was again an early start, when I left Stockholm for home, stopping in Linköping on the way to sample some books and charters in the diocese library.

All in all a good couple of days, but quite intense!

Narrow alley in Stockholm's Old Town at night, lit by street light and the moon
The Old Town in Stockholm by night
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
2018-03-27 11:03 pm
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An unexpected Copenhagen trip

I'm trying to get as much information I can about medieval trade in paper and parchment, and purchases of the same. This means reading published account books (there's no time for me to decipher original account books), and hopefully they have a register that includes more than just places and persons.

I found one such book, Danske middelalderlige regnskaber (Danish medieval accounts), in the library while looking for something else*. The register noted both paper and parchment several times, so I was all set to photocopy those pages. I was a bit confused when I discovered that the book started on page 238, and I couldn't make head or tail about it. And since some of those papers and parchments were on pages prior to that, it was important that I found out what on earth was going on.

And on the front page, in a very small font, was printed "second part". No, the library didn't have the first volume. And it didn't seem as if any other Swedish library had. Now, luckily, I live close to Copenhagen, so I checked the Danish Royal Library's catalogue, just in case. Potentially there could have been a fuck-up and the first part was never printed - who knows? But the catalogue said they had two copies, one "Volume 1,1" and one "Volume 1,2". And they were in the reading room, not in a off-site store somewhere. Jackpot!

So with a very short notice (I found this out in the very late afternoon), I packed my bag and the next morning headed off in a different direction than the usual. A bit of oopses on the way: had to get more Danish currency, top-up my pay-as-you-go rail card, run to the platform...

I was distracted on the way to the library by the realisation that today was a Tuesday and the Glyptoteket museum had free entry. And they had a new exhibition on about a Roman silverware treasure found in France many years ago. A bit embarrasingly, I've never before been to Glyptoteket mainly due to the entrance fee and the fact that Ancient Greece/Rome isn't really my main interest. But today, how could I refuse? It took only an hour or so to walk through the interesting bits, including the exhibition. I suspect that a good guide would really bring the statues to life (so to speak), but it's a very traditional museum, with more statues than non-statues. The winter garden with its massive palm trees is on the other hand lovely!

I found the book quickly in the Royal Library** and got the references I needed. Next option was either sit there and write something, or go window shopping. Window shopping won. I had a list of second-hand bookshops to tick off, and while it wasn't a beautiful day, the promised sleet hadn't arrived. My second jackpot was at Vagnsgaard's***, where I found a book on guilds in Medieval Scandinavia that looked like it could be highly useful.

I walked until it felt like my feet would fall off, and then took the train home. All but one of the bookshops had been visited. And as I got out from the station, the first snowflakes started to fall. Right now, the grass is covered in snow, but it has melted on the cycle paths and pavements. I wonder what it will look like when I wake up tomorrow?

*: this is very typical.
**: The Royal Library does a decently priced and tasty lunch. Couldn't actually finish my sandwich!
***: Of all the second-hand bookshops I visited, Vagnsgaard's on Fiolstræde is the best one from an archaeological/historical perspective.
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2018-03-03 05:54 pm
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February summary

And suddenly… it was March! February has passed quickly, and not just because it’s the shortest month. The first weeks went as usual, some writing, lots of emails sent out, books borrowed and articles downloaded. Stella, one of the PhD students here, nailed her thesis* on the fifth.


*: Yes, literally. It’s a tradition in some Swedish universities, that when the thesis is published** – usually one month before the defence – you nail it to a designated board at your faculty. Some places do it electronically on the department or faculty webpage, others only nail an abstract/bibliographic information sheet, Lund Uni makes you nail the whole book. This is a way to publicly acknowledge that the thesis is available to read for those who wants to before the defence.

**: As opposed to, for example Britain, Swedish theses are published and available to purchase. The disadvantage is that “passed with minor/major corrections” is not possible – if there are any things to correct, it’s too late for that. As a consequence, you either pass or (God forbid) fail.


All was well, and then, one Friday afternoon I felt my throat being a bit sore. And was utterly knocked out by what I would describe as “a cold that wanted to be a flu but didn’t make it all the way”. My throat was razor blades for two days, and I can’t really remember that Saturday happened. I was off for the entire week, and unfortunately missed a day-long research seminar that I really wanted to attend.

Just as I was getting better, it was time to fly to England for a week-long research trip. Before Christmas I was asked to contribute a paper for a conference held in honour of my MA supervisor, who’s been a mentor for me. Obviously I couldn’t say no. The topic was very wide (interactions between humans and birds), but it was still a bit of a struggle to think of a subject for the paper, as I’m not really doing anything with birds. That said, I decided to do something on the use of geese for writing/literacy, which is sort of part of my PhD. The main focus on the research trip was information on a specific type of artefact made from (mostly) geese radius bones, mostly believed to be used for writing, but quite frankly we don’t really know.

I could not go to every place that has these artefacts, so I concentrated on visiting the places with most finds. It was a very busy week: flying there on Monday, Museum of London and various London libraries on Tuesday, York Archaeological Trust on Wednesday, Norwich Museum on Thursday, and Oxfordshire County Museum on Friday. The actual information gathering didn’t take that long, but since I had had to buy train tickets well in advance to avoid extortionate ticket prices, I had made sure I had plenty of time for my research. As a consequence, I had five hours to kill in both York and Norwich… There’s only so much you can walk around and see/do in five hours on a cold February when your body really wants a proper afternoon nap.

The trip was well planned timewise (apart from the whole exhausting cold thing): I could have a weekend in Oxford where I could see the Bodleian Library’s Designing English exhibition (recommended!) and participate in a weekend lindy hop workshop/social dance event! The dance classes were very good, but it was not until the Sunday evening dance that I felt well enough to dance more than one dance. A bit of a shame, as the bands were really good. But I had good music to listen to, good dancers to watch and lovely people to talk to. Definitely worth it!

And as I was heading to the airport, I felt my throat being a bit sore again. I didn’t really dare to push through and hope it would go away, so I spent the next few days at home, drinking hot ginger and honey water. It seems to have worked (*knock on wood*).

So that was my February.

Last Friday (3rd March), Stella defended her thesis and can now call herself Dr. Macheridis!
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2018-01-26 05:37 pm
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Finally found the mystery site!

A while back, I was writing up sites that are assumed to have been parchment production places. Some have pretty solid evidence, others are more towards speculation. The only site in Sweden, Alvastra, is a bit inbetween. There is a stone building a kilometre away from the Cistercian Abbey of Alvastra that may be a parchmenters' workshop (previously believed to be a burial chapel, thereof the name Sverker's Chapel). The main evidence seem to be a combination of a stone trough (where hides could have been soaked in lime for de-hairing) in the building and the remains of an oven (for lime-burning?) outside. Not as good evidence as the early Medieval monastery at Portmahomack where they found tools, but you could find alternative explanations to the trough and oven.

One popular booklet about the site states: "During excavations of a grange [monastic farm/workshop] in England, a stone trough was found, similar to the one at Sverker's Chapel. This trough has preliminarily been interpreted as a tank for temporarily keeping fish, before they were to be cooked." And as this is a popular booklet, the author never mentioned the name of that English grange... To add to my irritation, said author died just as I was beginning my PhD, so I couldn't even ask her if she remembered what site it was.

Have you any idea how many monastic sites/sites vaguely related to monasteries have been excavated in the UK up to the year that booklet was published? Quite a few... (understatement). So I did some googling, and it couldn't be Meara, and was probably not Byland. And being not in the UK with easy availability of site reports etc, I more or less gave up finding this mystery site.

And then, the other day, I read an article about food production at monastic sites in England, and the author* wrote "Excavation at Abingdon Abbey's Dean Court grange revealed two stone-lined tanks built within the kitchen in the late fourteenth century, apparently for the temporary storage of fish prior to cooking (Allen at al. 1994, 289-301)." and my eyes popped! This must be my mystery site!

Luckily, the reference was published in the Oxfordshire archaeology journal Oxoniensia, which has all but the most recent volumes online (unfortunately some of the scans are very pale, so they can be a bit hard to read), and I quickly checked it out. So now my question is: was the Sverker Chapel intended for cooking or for (leather-related?) crafts? I need to think a bit more on that one.

*: Unfortunately called "James Bond" and I can't find out any contact information/work place/anything about him, as any search word combination I can come up with also tags the movies and books. Did you know that at least one James Bond movie is filmed in a monastery? (I just wish he used a middle initial or something...)
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2018-01-07 09:40 pm
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Looking back - looking forward

2017 was a relatively busy year: first a few months in York, a mini zooarch conference in Århus, another one in Cardiff, an enforced 4 week summer holiday (quite nice), and then an autumn of emailing people for access to collections etc. My plan was to do all the local museum stuff in October-November or so. That failed. Hopefully I can do the last local museum in January-February. *fingers crossed*

I hope 2018 will be a good year. It will certainly be busy: first I have an intense course in historical/archaeological theory, a mini research trip to the UK, museum visits in Sweden, zooarch conference in Stockholm, writing a conference paper to present in UK in June, a London visit (HAMILTON!!!), possibly a PhD student conference in York, the enforced summer holiday, lab work (100+ samples), writing grant applications for more sampling, and of course write the thesis.

My original plan for 2018 also included the EAA (European archaeology association) conference in Barcelona (never been, would be a fun place to visit) in September. It's also the same time as the ICAZ zooarchaeology conference, this time in Ankara. I'd sort of like to go, as next time (2022) will be not in Europe* and subsequently much more expensive for me, but... time. Money. The usual. I do get access to grants, but there are lots of students and it's no guarantee that you will be fully reimbursed - or even get the grant. EAA will be c. £200 + travel and accommodation. ICAZ is not cheap either.

*: Yes, technically Ankara is in Asia, I know...
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2017-12-13 06:01 pm
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Not according to plan

Today was a work-at-home day. It's good to be able to work from any place, particularly when rain is forecasted for the entire afternoon... The plan for today and tomorrow was to write most of the chapter on Medieval husbandry in Scandinavia. However...

I'm clearly more tired from last week's illness than I thought, and slept until 10am. I have since then read the applications we will discuss in the Research Board on Friday, copied relevant parts of a bibliography and checked which of these books can be found in Sweden (and ordered inter-library loans), had lunch, had an afternoon nap (see tiredness, above), sent off an email with anti-harassment guidelines for a forthcoming meeting, and... not even written a word on the chapter. Oops. By now it's definitely time for dinner, so I foresee evening writing, and of course there's also tomorrow.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2017-12-07 10:04 pm

The sad state of self

How is it almost mid-December??? This week started out well, admittedly with an early start for two obligatory department meetings, but then I went home to do the final window washing and Christmas curtains/decoration set-up, which I hadn't finished on Sunday (you can't really wash windows when it's dark outside, and dark comes unexpectedly early...), aiming to make up for lost hours in the evening. Well that failed. Just after the curtains and the star and the advent candelabras were up, my slow-going sore throat really started going. So, to bed, big cup of tea with ginger and honey. That was Monday. Thursday morning it seems to have migrated to my sinuses, and I'm a bit of a snot factory today. Staying home tomorrow as well, and have cancelled the dance workshop on Saturday :-( . Hopefully someone else can take my space (assuming there is a stand-by queue).

So in short, this is a lost week, going by in a daze with a semi-porridge brain, alternating between being in bed and refreshing twitter, dreamwidth and askhistorians. Only enough brain to re-read comfort books. Not altogether lost, admittedly: I have done some work on my planned talk at a conference in June - gathering data, nothing brainy like writing - and I have written and posted the Christmas cards. Hurrah...

I have seen some things that may be of interest:
- The Medieval Marginalia Paraphrenalia kickstarter - get your very own badge with a nun picking penises (and/or a dragon and snail-jousting rabbit). It was funded within a few hours, proving (as the creator stated) it's far easier to market a nun picking from a penis tree than to write a PhD!
- The first book in The Comfortable Courtesan series has been published. Excellent story, great comfort reading (no pun intended). Lots of good historical background info on the webpage.
- The report on the Medieval furrier site from Northampton has been published in Northampton Archaeology, vol.39 - I should probably do a blog post about furrier sites. After all, I've done the report on one of them.
- An Old French grammar cheat sheet, downloadable from Academia.edu and printable.
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2017-10-22 12:11 am
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A week in PhD life - the mid-October edition

The weeks pass by, and suddenly it's almost November. I saw the first Christmas decorated shop yesterday (it's basically mid-October!!!!), and I'm quite certain that when I'm old I will look back in nostalgia to a time when Christmas decorations didn't start at Easter. It's that beautiful time of autumn when the leaves are all going into yellow but there's still lots of green ones. No going for a walk today though: it rained _all_ day.

I've started going through writing related artefacts from one of the Lund museums, and I hope I can start on the other one mid-November or so. They're in the middle of finalising a new permanent exhibition, so I doubt they can find the time for me right now.

Bone stylus with metal end
Bone stylus with a metal end for writing. The smooth end on the other side is for erasing the wax tablet.

Bone stylus (square head)
Another type of bone stylus. This one has never had a metal end, instead the bone shaft has been carved to a point. And it's tiny! Almost too small for my hands even.

Other than that, I keep writing the sections I can write, waiting for interlibrary loans to arrive, references to check and more books to order. Lund has a pretty good library, and thankfully the interlibrary loan system is easy to use when you need to find books they don't have.

I'm thinking of starting a PhD work diary again. I had good intentions at the beginning, but didn't keep it up when I got back from York. It's good to have one, so you can see what you've been doing - sometimes it feels like you've done absolutely nothing and are so far behind that you have to work 24/7 just to keep up. And that's a bad thing. Weekends are there for a reason (she said, who is planning to work on Sunday to make up for lost time mid-week). But that will be after my holiday next week. I'm off to London to see the Scythians exhibition at the British Museum, and do some research at various libraries there. Despite what I said about the interlibrary loan system, it's not perfect, and sometimes you have to pay for international loans. Worth it for a whole book, but not really for an article if you're not absolutely sure you'll need it.

Bone stylus (hexagonal shaft, triangular head)
Finally, a very unusual bone stylus: a hexagonal shaft and a triangular head. This one has a metal tip, but it's been broken off at the shaft and very little is remaining.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
2017-10-06 09:42 pm
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A good start to the weekend

This week has been semi-positive: some emails have returned with useful information, but there are others I need to send an reminder to on Monday morning. The usual information hunt is ongoing, where one interlibrary loan leads to another, as the information I assumed were there, is not _quite_ there. Sigh.

But a chance nip-in to a second hand bookshop this afternoon was very rewarding. At least one archaeologist had been culling their bookshelves (judging from the dedication, one book had belonged to the guy who was professor in prehistoric archaeology when I was an undergrad) and the books were in pristine or at least pristine-ish condition! It wasn't a case of "OMG I've been on the lookout for this book forever", but more a "oh, this could be useful". But the books were cheap, so I ended up buying nine of them. And I already had three books in my bag to do some work at home... My poor hands did not appreciate the book haul.

All in all, a good start to the weekend. Friday evening will be spent on the sofa, doing language checks on an article for a colleague. But I have tea and chocolate, and a tasty cardamom roll, so no complaints from me!
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2017-09-24 09:44 pm
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Last Tuesday was a fun day. One of our professors had recently retired, and as sort of a leaving present, a whole bunch of us at the department and lots of other people (ex-colleagues etc) went on an excursion to several sites that had been important to her in her career. Admittedly, this being archaeology, a lot of sites were passed by on the road as there is not much point in standing in the middle of a field looking at nothing. Prehistoric settlement sites in Scandinavia aren't really famous for visible above ground remains.

But we stopped the bus at two Bronze Age burial mounds, and at a peninsula with several Stone Age caves. One mound had to my knowledge not been excavated, but the other one had been and the burial chamber and entrance way had been recently restored. If I had brought a torch I would have been tempted to sneak in.

The Ålabodarna Bronze Age burial mound in its landscape, between sea and farmstead. (Click to embiggen.)

The very narrow entrance to the burial mound. (Click to embiggen.)

View from the top of the burial mound toward the sea. Denmark's coast is on the horizon. (Click to embiggen.)

The Stone Age caves (well, obviously formed in an geological age and not the Stone Age, but they were used in the Stone Age for temporary occupation) were the highlight. I had never been to one before, but now I want to go back and explore that area more. Scania is said to be flat as a pancake, but the Kullaberg peninsula is one of the not flat parts. Lots of people come here for rock climbing.

It was a long steep path down to the stony beach. Thankfully there were stairs (wood or natural stone, nothing fancy or easily walked), but my legs didn’t appreciate it as much as my eyes did. The beach was gorgeous, with lots of photo opportunities if you liked rock formations. There were several caves accessible from those stairs. The main one is at the beach itself, and you could get to another one at next beach along by stairs up a rocky formation and then a narrow path down the other side. The caves are all tiny, so they can only have been used for temporary shelter (annual seal hunts or sea bird egg collections?).

First part of the path. We're still in a lovely decidious wood. (Click to embiggen.)

The first stairs. Now you can (just about) see the beach! (Click to embiggen.)

A part without stairs, just a stony path. Still a long way to go until we're down on the beach. (Click to embiggen.)

The beach! Cliffs to the right...(Click to embiggen.)

... and more cliffs to the left. (Click to embiggen.)

The beach "next door". (Click to embiggen.)

A funny little plant growing on the cliffside. If you know what it is, please let me know. (Click to embiggen.)

Windswept heather growing on the cliffside. I wonder how old that plant is? (Click to embiggen.)
ossamenta: Text from medieval manuscript (Palaeography)
2017-08-26 10:48 pm
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Scandinavian manuscript summer course!

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, this summer I participated in a summer school in Scandinavian manuscript studies at Copenhagen University. The course is organised by the Arnamagnæan Institute at Copenhagen University and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavik, and it alternates between Copenhagen and Reykjavik.

There are three levels: basic, advanced and master. Basic gives you a good grounding in Scandinavian manuscript production, palaeography (i.e. handwriting style) for both Icelandic and Danish/Swedish, including all the abbreviations*, how to describe and interpret illuminations in a manuscript, Medieval Danish and Swedish language (there were no classes in Medieval Icelandic, since basic knowledge of Medieval Icelandic was in the course requirements**), as well as more specialised topics such as how to use change in language/grammar and palaeography to date Icelandic manuscripts, the use of runes in manuscripts, and post-medieval Icelandic palaeography.

*: Since parchment was very expensive in Iceland, they used abbreviations a lot, both to shorten the time spent writing and the amount of parchment needed for a text. In some cases almost 70% of the words on a page are abbreviated!
**: I was given an exception for this. There were some classes where you definitely needed a working knowledge of Icelandic, but most were fine without it.

ink drawing of a man in the lower margin of a medieval manuscript
A little man in the margin of the Kings' Saga (AM81fol, fol.95r, 16th century). Click to embiggen.

The advance class focussed more on the text; how to transcribe medieval texts properly including how to code for the abbreviations in the most "academic" of transcription styles. Most texts in ordinary transcribed books are transcribed more loosely, either by marking all abbreviations in italics (but not showing what the abbreviation signs looked like), or for a more popular publication, just typing the text as it was intended to be read (assuming that the editor has interpreted the abbreviations correctly...).

Small medieval manuscript (10x8cm) lying on a cushion
This tiny lawbook (10x8cm!) contains King Valdemar's law for Sjælland. (AM455 12mo, fol.4v-5r, 1275-1325). Click to embiggen and read the famous first line "Meth lagh scal land byggæs" (with law shall land be built).

The master class is for the select few who have taken both classes before and who really want to dive into manuscript analysis. This year they worked on a late medieval text on Virgin Mary legends, transcribing them in various ways. I really liked that their work was not just considered an exercise, but that it will be put online for other researchers to use.

rectangular medieval manuscript. No illuminations, only black text.
Collection of prose. Tall rectangular format so there won't be unnecessary blank space when you write short rhyming lines (AM191fol, fol.83v, late 15th century). Click to embiggen.

We had two excursions: one to Roskilde for the cathedral and the Viking ship museum and then to Gammel-Lejre, a pre-Viking Age high status site, which some people think is the location for Beowulf.
The second excursion was part of the runes-day: we had a guided tour of several rune-related persons and tombstones at Assistens cemetery in the centre of Copenhagen.

Lots of people within a stone setting in the countryside. Pasture and the occasional trees.
The whole class at the stone setting/burial area at Gammel Lejre. The museum is one of the buildings in the background. Click to embiggen.

It was a really interesting course. I particularly liked that we had so many opportunities to see and handle manuscripts (thirteen workshops, six with manuscripts). You get an entirely different feel for the books than when you only see them on a computer screen. Not that I don't appreciate the ongoing digitization of manuscripts - it's such a help for knowledge gathering in all sorts of ways. If you want to see the manuscripts we worked on, they are online at Handrit.is. It was a very mixed bunch of people: mostly from a "medieval studies" background - I think I was the only archaeologist - and from all over: Denmark, Norway, Faroe Islands, Poland, Czech republic, Germany, Britain, USA, and probably more places too. I surprised a fair few of my classmates (the not-Danes) when they found out I didn't rent a place in Copenhagen for the course, but commuted each day from Sweden. But the South Campus is very convenient for the metro, so it took just about an hour door to door. Definitely worth it!

medieval manuscript with a repaired hole - text goes around it.
Darned parchment from AM37 4to, 15th/16th century. Click to embiggen.
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2017-08-13 07:58 pm
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Never assume...

This last week has been fun but busy: in the day I'm taking a summer course on Scandinavian manuscripts at Copenhagen University (more on that later), and in the evenings I've been going through the Swedish National Archives medieval charters database, from which I will select charters for scientific analysis. Consequently, my eyes are tired and my mouse-finger sore. But I still have lots of records to go through, so I suspect that next week will follow the same pattern.

Being somewhat naive, I assumed that the database would contain the charters that the National archives had in their stores, and did my calculations on the total sum/year/town when I prepared my grant applications and talked to the conservators. That was not quite the case... :-(

It turns out that the database contains charters that were written in or sent to places and persons in Sweden (present-day, i.e. including those parts that were Danish in the Middle Ages). Once I got a look at the individual records I found out that some of those charters are in the Vatican Library, Lübeck, Berlin etc. Others turned out to be later copies or even post-medieval prints, which makes them perfectly functional if you're after the actual words, but useless for my purposes. Some are written on paper, not parchment (useless for my protein analyses, useful for other parts of the PhD).

At least there's some good news: Even if in some cases only half the records in the database actually correspond to a parchment document in the National Archives, I'm still within my sample number allowance. Unfortunately, many of the 12th and 13th century records from Lund are lost (turned out to be later copies), but I hope the samples from those charters can be switched to samples from books.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2017-07-03 09:18 pm

PZG - feasting

This was the first PZG (professional zooarchaeology group) meeting since my move to Sweden last summer, and I really enjoyed seeing my ex-colleagues again. The meeting was held in Cardiff, where I had never been before, unless you count changing from train to regional bus for a living history event a few years ago. The city centre is fairly compact and can (as evidenced) be seen in two hours, including a visit to the castle, but excluding the art and natural history museum. I can recommend a visit to the castle, not for the actual remains of the Norman castle, which is probably only exciting if you're really into Norman castles or never seen one before, but for the 19th century rooms. They were described as state rooms for the marquesses of Bute, and I went in perfunctory, seeing as I had after all paid for it. But wow! This was not some generic 'seen one, seen them all' fancy rooms for nobles to impress other nobles, but rooms done in total neo-gothic style! I particularly liked the library and the so called Arab room.

Intarsia details from bookshelf in the library at Cardiff Castle
Intarsia details from a bookshelf in the library. Click to embiggen.

The actual meeting was in two parts: first several short talks on bone assemblages from feasting - or possibly not feasting! - and then a lunch break at a nice pub nearby. Somewhat of a student pub rather than "traditional", but they served good food and had a beer garden, so no complaints from me.

The talks discussed how to define "feasting", apparently an impossibility if you want to have a definition that can be useful in archaeology. As with all human activities, there are A LOT of variations and exceptions to rules. For example, one feasting definition includes food waste remains from animals not normally eaten to be one marker of "special" meals, but then, how do you exclude animals eaten in times of starvation when you can't be too picky about where your protein comes from? Also, if you define feasting too vaguely, it becomes too all-encompassing and therefore useless in regards to archaeology.

The talks also included two new PhD students talking about their research: Bettina Stolle from Stockholm on late Iron Age/Viking Age ritual-profane deposits, and Thomas Fowler from Nottingham on rabbits and hare. The latter is part of the Easter E.G. project, and will discuss introduction of brown hare and rabbit to Britain as well as distinguishing between brown hare and mountain hare.

We also had an interesting case study from Scotland, where it really goes into what I label "weird shit": a pit with a cattle skull + mandibles and three articulated cattle feet but with the final toe bones missing. As they excavated they found that the fourth cattle foot had been wedged into the cattle's mouth, possibly inserted from the back of the throat rather than from the mouth. No-one in the meeting had ever heard of something similar, so who knows what the reasoning was behind this action? Weird shit indeed.

The final morning thing was an outreach/creativity session. I really liked the creativity idea - useful for people who say they aren't creative, as it really forces you to think outside the box. The idea? One minute to come up with "101 uses for a dead rabbit" - luckily it's a magical rabbit, as after you've done one thing to it, it becomes whole again. We came up with: (several version of) food, lucky rabbit foot, draught excluder, hand puppet, fur hood, selling the bones as fashion accessories to hipsters, including it in a skeleton reference collection (of course!), reference data for Thomas (see above), and several other things I can't remember. We got far less than 101 uses though.

The afternoon session focussed on practical bone and antler working. Some of us leapt with great pleasure on 'making an antler ring' (the Cardiff archaeologists have done that as an outreach thing on several music festivals), and others, myself included, looked at tools and replica objects and talked to the two craftsmen -one an archaeological illustrator with this as a hobby, and the other a MSc student. It's always good to get some practical feedback on things. For example, many articles claim that antler was soaked in water before working as that renders it soft and pliable. The craftsmen said that a little spit was enough - if you soaked the antler the collagen became so soft that it became impossible to carve; just got the blade all gunky. Another thing I learnt was that it's not necessary to fill ring and dot-motifs or other carvings with tar or resins to colour them, just skin oil + dirt from normal use will do that very quickly.

Tools and replicas of antler artefacts, Cardiff University.
Hand drills and replicas of antler artefacts. Click to embiggen.

After the meeting my holiday continued: I visited a friend outside Cardiff, and then four days in London for research and touristing (unfortunately coinciding with a 30°C heatwave - at least the British Library was cool), and then a weeked of dancing at the Oxford Lindy Exchange (probably the best dance exchange in the UK, not that I'm biased or anything :-) ).
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2017-06-11 09:20 pm
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Almost summer

Last week I went to the National Graduate School of History's PhD student conference. It's an international conference that changes location every year, rotating between the three participating universities: Lund (Sweden), York (UK) and Bielefeld (Germany). It would admittedly be my fifth conference/meeting this year, but since it was in Lund (no travel!) and since I have less stress now than I anticipate for next year, I figured I might as well sign up for the conference and get some networking done as well.

The conference had a huge range of topics, even if they all were history-related in one way or another: from 20th century philosophers to border stones in Ancient Rome, from provisioning of 18th century shipping to 19th and 20th century railway commemorations, from 17th century brotherhood to human rights in 20th century Thailand, etc etc. I was not the only PhD student with a medieval topic, which was nice. Swedish history departments seem to be mainly focussed on 19th-20th century research, with some early Modern stuff thrown in as well. There were at least three people whose theses I very much look forward to read, and I've already done some following on Academia.edu to keep up with what they publish.

There were also two faculty round tables: on writing entangled histories*, and on making an academic career. I took many notes on the latter. I have no idea where this PhD will take me, if I intend to stay in academia, go back to zooarchaeology, or into something completely different. An academic career is tough, but someone will make it, and if you never try, you can rest assured that it will not be you.

*: From the Bielefeld webpage: "Taking a trans-cultural perspective as the main point of departure EH centers on the interconnectedness of societies. The basic assumption is that neither nations, nor empires, nor civilizations can be the exclusive and exhaustive units and categories of historiography." So, in other words: ignoring national borders when writing history, and considering that no nation is an island (in a figuratively way, that is).

Tomorrow it's back to work after a restful weekend. I did about half the things I said I should do, so it's not too bad (especially since one of the things I said I should do was sit on the sofa and watch tv-series and not think about archaeology). However, I must remember to sort out the bills before I turn the computer off! That part must not be postponed! But it's the last week before my summer holiday, and I can't be too "oh crap it's Monday tomorrow". I just hope I can get hold of the interlibrary loans before the library closes for summer (due to cuts, they have limited services, and most of the books I need are not on the open shelves).
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2017-05-30 11:22 pm
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Almost midnight - obviously something's gone wrong

And here I thought that I could go through my Flixborough books tonight and write up the section on Flixborough so I didn't have to take them to the office (the library don't have any of them, and they weigh a fair bit (A4 size books, total width c.10cm)). But no. I need more time - which I don't have as it's close to midnight and I'm oh so tired.

So, guess who has to carry a bunch of heavy books to and from the bus tomorrow?
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
2017-05-29 11:39 am

A busy May

After a lovely four-day weekend, I guess it’s time to tackle the backlog. May has not been an idle month for me: two conferences abroad, and then all the usual writing and adding articles to the library.

I was very lucky to be invited to the LVCAS 360° meeting in Oxford, where researchers in several fields* (and a few PhD students) met to present their work on a 11th century annotated gospel and discuss how similar studies should be carried out in the future. I didn’t have that much to contribute, being only in my first year, but I met some interesting (and famous in their field) people, which will help me a lot for my research. After all, when you do multidisciplinary studies you can’t be an expert in all fields. Instead you have to get to know experts so you don’t fall into stupid traps that any expert of that field could have seen coming from miles away.
*: protein analyses to identify species, spectometry to identify ink types (connected to trade in ink and materials to make ink from), paleography to identify the two scribes working on the book (nicely correlated to quality of parchment too – only one of them was considered enough skilled for the fine vellum), sexing of animals through dna, and the usual book production studies (ruling, binding etc).

My next trip took me closer to home: to Århus in Denmark, for the first Nordic Zooarchaeology meeting. A total of 20 zooarchaeologists, from Denmark, Sweden and Norway met at the Archaeology department at Moesgaard, just outside Århus, to discuss how we do things (same/different?) in our institutions and countries and how we want to work in the future. There were so many differences due to organisational setups: In Sweden zooarchaeology is decentralised, whereas in Denmark (and Norway?) it’s very centralised. Almost all animal bones are analysed in Copenhagen (a few museum send their bones to Århus). This affects the cooperation between archaeologists who write the reports and the zooarchaeologists – how easy is it to get information on the contexts where the bones came from? Are the bones analysed in time for the results to be incorporated into the archaeological report? What’s the research situation on geological collections vs. archaeological collections? How and where do you store the bones after the analysis? What sampling strategies do you have on sites that will yield a huge amount of bone? etc etc. The meeting was an astounding success, and we all agreed that we had to have one next year too. It will be in Stockholm, but the date is not set.

I had never been to Århus before, and since we were meeting (and stayed) outside Århus proper, I only saw the town when we went for a conference dinner. But what I saw whetted my appetite, and I really need to have a week or so in Jutland. So many things to see and do there. I can also recommend a visit to Moesgård Museum. The museum building is brand-new, and has a great grasscovered sloping roof that can be used for picnics in summer. Their prehistoric exhibitions are fantastic, making good use of projections and soundscape. In October their new medieval exhibition will open, so I have good incentive to go back then. But that will have to be in spring/summer 2018, so I can walk around in the lovely decidious woods that go from the museum all the way to the beach. Honestly, I don’t understand how the archaeology students manage to finish their work on time – if I had studied there, I would have spent way too much time being outside (and not writing).
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2017-05-01 09:43 pm
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York reflections

And I'm back! Well, truth be told I've been back for a while, but life - both at work and off work - has been quite busy and evenings have just gone too quickly. TL;DR version: It was great! Fully recommended.

Longer version:
The MSc courses (plural, as they also gave me the schedule for the general Masters skill module, which turned out be be in turns useful and not applicable) were all on Mondays: mornings and afternoons. The first week I used the time in between to randomly walk the centre of York, to get my bearings. As York still has most of its medieval street network, it took a little while, even considering that I have a good sense of directions. And it's a really lovely town. Reminds me of both Oxford, Cambridge and Lund.

Housing wise I was very lucky, and could stay with a friend's friend's friend not very far from the city centre. Such a luxury to be able to walk to work! Otherwise housing might have been a bit difficult. Most ads I saw online had a minimum of six month's stay, which doesn't work if you're only there for a single term (i.e. ten weeks).

The Ancient Biomolecules course covered most things (DNA, isotopes, proteins, lipids), and thankfully with the assumption that most of us were coming at it from a humanities background rather than science, so they started with a quick basic recap. With only one class per week, it was a lot of reading. They put up the powerpoints on the university intranet so you could go back and check, but as someone who hadn't taken either biology nor chemistry since the age of sixteen, I could have done with a somewhat slower pace. There were also two essays, one not graded - probably so that anyone who didn't get what the teachers were at post-grad level after could be set straight, rather than magnificently fail on that second essay with counted for 100% of the marks for the course. We could choose our own topics for the second essay (with approval from the course teacher), which I thought was really nice. So much better to pick a topic that you are really interested in, rather than being forced to learn something that you either find very difficult or find totally uninteresting. So I played to my strengths and chose to write about zooarchaeology and biomolecular methods. It all went well until I checked my word count* and realised that I had to do some serious editing in order to fit in that last section. And that was something that the examiner picked up as well. Still, can't complain, I got 69! So so close to the magical 70, which turn the grade into "distinction". (For readers elsewhere: The UK university grading system technically runs from 0-100, but where most students will land at 50-70. If you get over 80 you could probably get your essay published with few edits.
*: Luckily the bibliography wasn't included in the word count (although title and chapter headings were), as mine ran for 6.5 pages!

The Masters' Skills module was everything a Masters student would need in order to write their dissertation. Of course, covering _all_ archaeology Masters students, there were sections which were irrelevant to some, and excluded sections that other students would have needed. But I had some good use of Maximizing your MS Word skills (taught by a professional editor who deals with MS Word manuscripts all day long) and discussions on reference databases like Endnote. Less useful classes for me were Using archives, Image depositories (of course if I would do something on British archaeology, they would probably be very useful). The data management and statistics could be an entire module on its own (and apparently previously they had done that one in two classes rather than in one).

Some days I took the bus to the main campus (Archaeology is in Kings Manor in the city centre (Kings Manor being appropriately 16th century; however the archaeology building is 1970s concrete...)) and the BioArCh labs to get some hands-on experience of protein analysis of parchment. It was very fun, and I wish I had had more time for this. The campus itself is quite a labyrinth of paths between various colleges, departments and student housing (almost all 1960s concrete). The big lake in the middle is home to several waterfowl, so if you are afraid of geese (or moorhens, ducks and coots) I would not recommend a visit. Also, there is goose poo everywhere...

But all was not studying! (although I must say that the persons in Sweden who told me that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to write my methods chapter as there would be few distractions and I could get that over and done with, were wildly optimistic on the amount of studying/writing that was needed for the course) I managed to see Whitby Abbey (unexpectedly timing it with the first Whitby Steampunk Weekend!), Durham, Harrogate, Leeds (incl. Kirkstall Abbey and the Leeds Armouries), Saltaire, Manchester and Fountains Abbey. Whitby was fabulous, and I'm so thankful for the café near the abbey ruins as after half an hour running around with the freezing wind straight from the North Sea I couldn't feel my fingers anymore. After cradling a cup of hot tea they were much happier. That wind had eroded so much of the stones of the cathedral that it looked really weird! Like a piece of modern art in a way (see thumbnail below). I only wish I had had more time in Whitby. But that's the problem with depending on public transport, as the York-Whitby buses weren't that frequent.

Whitby Abbey. (Thumbnail: click to embiggen)

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey: a real close-up of some pillars

Durham is a small town around a huge cathedral and castle, and a university on the outskirts. I fully recommend (read: insist!) a visit to the cathedral and the Norman chapel in the castle for anyone interested in c. 12th century architecture and imagery.

Harrogate is alright for a day visit, but failed to leave much impression on me. I guess it's different if you live in the area and you have shopping- or socialising-reasons.

Saltaire is tiny, but definitely worth a visit for an afternoon out. Walk along the canal, go the the Saltmill and see the artgallery, browse the excellent bookshop, look at pretty jewellery, and have tea/cake or lunch.

I wasn't very impressed with Leeds (bearing in mind I mostly stayed in the centre). The entire city centre seemed to be dedicated to shopping, drinking and eating, with few independent shops, and few other things. One exception was the Leeds Corn Exchange, with several independent shops and eateries. I was very impressed by the jeweller Stephen Roper. Not that I need more jewellery (*sits on hands*). Leeds Armouries were big, and I'm glad I didn't go there with someone who was very interested in arms and armours, as I would have spent the remaining part of that day reading a book and waiting for them to be kicked out at closing time. In short: the place is huge and has lots and lots of arms and armour from all over the world. I loved the Agincourt model and I wish I could have done all the figure paintings! Kirkstall Abbey was nice, although pales compared to Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey is one of the largest Cistercian abbeys in England, and don't hesitate to pay the substantial entry fee - you will get a very good price/hour out of it! I thought one hour for ruin, bit of time for tea, but we stayed there four hours! And we didn't go into the adjacent deer park or parish church at all. I definitely recommend a visit, regardless if you're that interested in monastic ruins, as the landscape around it and the 18th century formal gardens are also worth a visit. Nearby town Ripon has less of interest, although the tiny Anglo-Saxon crypt in the cathedral could be worth a detour. There are no fancy carvings in the chapel, although the choir has 15th century misericords.

Fountains Abbey with snow drops. It may look like a big abbey, but you're only seeing a small part of it from this direction...

Manchester was a nice break from the Medieval. It's mainly 19th century, where nicely restored factory buildings (often now expensive flats) rub shoulders with utter ruins in the outskirts of the city centre. I can't personally see how so many buildings are derelict as the short distance from the centre of town would mean good property values and options for both business and housing. But maybe I'm thinking in terms of the south of England, where everything within reasonable commuting distance to London has had its price hiked up to unaffordable for most. I was only in Manchester for a day, and it reminds me a bit about Glasgow: not a town I immediately fell in love with, but a town I believe I could come to like and enjoy if I lived there for a while.

When I left York it was 15°C and glorious sunshine. The cherry trees were blossoming and there were daffodils all along the city walls. I came home to 5°C and damp mist and I wanted to go back straightaway...